U.S. Mint medal series honors past presidents through George W. Bush

Program has 18th century origins
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 05/26/15
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The Presidential Medal Series is among the United States Mint’s most historically important and sustained medals programs. 

The series originated in 1792 and played an important role in the nation’s expansion westward. The British, French, and Spanish had long courted favor with American Indian leaders by giving gifts, especially medals. Leaders in the new U.S. government, especially Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, thought it symbolically important to continue presenting medals as a means of maintaining peaceful relations with Indian tribes.

Several styles of silver medals were created while President Washington was in office. Obverses depicted President Washington and an Indian sharing a peace pipe. Reverses featured the Great Seal of the United States. 

In 1801 after President Jefferson took office, the U.S. Mint produced the first Peace medal to bear a portrait of an American president. The obverse depicts a profile of Jefferson, facing left. The reverse bears the inscription PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP, symbolized by the image of a handshake and a crossed tomahawk and peace pipe. 

Peace medals were presented to Indian chiefs on their visits to Washington and on important occasions such as the signing of a treaty. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark distributed a large number of Jefferson Indian peace medals on their 1804 to 1806 expedition to the Pacific Ocean. 

The Peace Medal series became the Presidential Medal series after President Andrew Johnson left office in 1869. The obverse of each medal has continued to bear a portrait of the incumbent president. 

The Presidential series is produced in 3-inch and 1.312-inch sizes. A 3-inch, high-relief gold version is presented to the president and bronze replicas of both sizes are struck for sale to the public.

In the 1970s the Mint began offering the 1.312-inch medals in an album containing the entire series current to the new president. 

Until 2007, when production of Presidential dollar coins began, Presidential medals were the only way to collect official medallic tributes to U.S. presidents. Since Presidential dollar coins will not be struck bearing the image of any living presidents, the medal series still is the only way to obtain all of the presidential medals. No Presidential medal has yet been struck for President Obama. 

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